The up-and-comers

Actor Billy Muñoz at Jump-Start Performance Company. Executive Director Steve Bailey says Muñoz shows promise on stage and in the lighting box. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

New talent grows in the bright lights of San Antonio's theaters

Though San Antonio is infamous for losing its homegrown theater talent to the bright lights of the big city (or, frankly, anywhere they can actually make a living), the good news is that there's always young new young talent coming up. Here are just a few of the folks local producers and directors are talking about this season:

Laurie Clayton, 26, has recently had the sort of "overnight" success people like to joke about, because it isn't really "overnight" at all. Clayton has been singing and dancing since she could walk, started classes at age 4, and began training with Josephine Theatre's Showstoppers at the age of 12. She estimates she's been in more than 30 shows at the Josephine. "That's where I grew up," she says. "Grease, West Side Story, Tommy, 42nd Street, Smoky Joe's Café ... I can't even remember all the shows I've been in there."

While she's been known to folks "in the biz" for some time ("Four major musical talents recommended her to me before I even met her," says Frank Latson, artistic director of San Pedro Playhouse), Clayton recently landed her first lead, the notoriously difficult role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret. To say she was a critical and popular hit is putting it mildly.

"She came in without a real sense of how immense her talent is," says Latson. "She just knocked us back with her voice, and then was an amazing dancer as well." Clayton credits Showstopper's emphasis on creating well-rounded performers, and her talented fellow Cabaret cast members, for much of her success in the role. Says Latson, "It's that kind of humility that makes her such a gem."

Though San Antonio is infamous for losing its homegrown theater talent to the bright lights of the big city, the good news is that there's always young new young talent coming up.
Clayton, who calls herself a "belter" ("A small package with a really big voice!") will finish her third season at Fiesta Texas this November. "It's not a year-round job," she says, "and I like that because it gives us the time and opportunity to do things in the community." Clayton, who graduated from the University of the Incarnate Word with a marketing degree, would like to be self-employed with a schedule that will allow her to continue performing.

Billy Muñoz, 23, is the assistant technical director for Jump-Start Performance Company, and also served as the technical director for the Renaissance Guild's just-completed third season. Muñoz, who studied acting at Harlandale High School and Palo Alto College, auditioned for a role at Jump-Start over three years ago and never really left. September 1 marked his second anniversary on staff, where he's been assisting Technical Director Felice Garcia, and learning the art of lighting design from the company's education director, Steve Bailey.

"Billy's a young renaissance man of theater," says Bailey. "As a performer and actor he's done several things with us, but in the last two years he's really emerged as an inventive and creative lighting designer."

"Acting has always been my passion," says Muñoz, who recently performed in the high-profile Jump-Start projects El Calor de Amour and Epcot el Alamo, "but I love doing lighting design. It's like painting; it's an art form. I try to be experimental, to do something different, something that you wouldn't normally do with lighting. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I'm still trying to find what my thing is, what's the Billy touch."

Latrelle Bright, artistic director of the Renaissance Guild, often tells Muñoz how lucky he is to work so early in his career with the kinds of people and projects he encounters at Jump-Start. But she also concedes that it's not just luck. She praises the way his lighting serves the production, rather than calling attention to itself - a common rookie mistake.

Muñoz hopes to balance acting and design work, and is writing as well. His next goal? "To have something of my own, something that I wrote, performed on stage." No one who works with him would be surprised. "He comes up with wonderful concepts, he's not afraid to take risks," says Garcia, "and his heart is really in the theater."

Dave Cortez, 27, has spent his theatrical career at the Magik Theatre. As a student at Holmes High School where he did a lot of acting, he would skip school to work at Magik's small Commerce Street Stage, back before the move to Beethoven Hall. He graduated in 1995 and was hired, immediately, as a member of the acting company. "I went to Magik University," he says of his theater training.

Actress Laurie Clayton in the Cellar Theater at San Pedro Playhouse. Clayton calls herself "better ... A small package with a really big voice!"
Cortez is best known in San Antonio as a master of madcap comedy and is famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) for improv. "I don't like to keep to the script much," he admits. His talent for making it up as he goes along is not new. Even in high school he taught improv workshops in other high schools and middle schools. That made for an easy segue into his other job at Magik: teaching kids in the summer camp program that has since grown into the Academy, which enrolled more than 500 students this past summer.

"The kids are really attracted to him as a teacher," says Richard Rosen, executive director of Magik. "We're all about getting kids turned on to theater at a young age. I like to put people like Dave into those roles, people who get kids excited about working in the theater." Cortez has also recently begun directing. So far, Rosen likes what he sees. "He doesn't make obvious choices," Rosen says of Cortez, "both as an actor and as a director."

Cortez hopes to continue doing both. He's particularly interested in directing more drama. "I like a lot of depth," he says. "I really, really like challenging myself, and I think challenging myself means directing drama. I think comedy is a little too close to me."

Greg Hall, 19, has had quite a year. In what he considers to be his first year of seriously pursuing acting roles, Hall has done Raisin in the Sun and Amen Corner for Hornsby Entertainment, Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus at St. Philip's College, and he recently played Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream in a co-production of the Renaissance Guild and the Shoestring Shakespeare Company.

Hall attended high school at Madison and then Roosevelt, and recently transferred from Prairie View A&M to the University of the Incarnate Word where he'll spend two more years as an acting major. He's in rehearsals now to play the title role in the Renaissance Guild's upcoming production of Frankenstein.

"I'm learning a lot about myself," he says of that rehearsal process. "It's a very physical, demanding role."

"His instincts are amazing," says John Poole, Frankenstein's director. "He's the kind of actor you can give one or two notes to, and then just let him run with it."

Melissa Marlowe, artistic director of Shoestring and one of Hall's co-stars in Midsummer, says she's also a fan of his at this point. "He is somebody I want to keep an eye on because I think he has the perfect combination of creativity and cockiness, as well as a real love and respect for his craft." •

John Poole is married to Laurie Dietrich.

By Laurie Dietrich


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